Seamus K - Irish tech industry expat living in Sweden.

Month: January 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

Will there be a new Safe Harbour?

Since Safe Harbour fell last year it has been interesting watching the efforts to replace it. Max Schrems is to be congratulated for bringing to an end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to the previous arrangements. Now everyone seems to admit they were inadequate and a replacement is needed.

The trick is how to get there when there can be very different views on privacy, people’s rights (especially non citizens), and expectations around them.

One of the interesting perspectives I read about it all was this one from Ars Technica, which talks about the way the original CJEU ruling was framed. As they say:

The careful legal reasoning used by the CJEU to reach its decisions will make its rulings extremely hard, if not impossible, to circumvent, since they are based on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

So a fudge around tweaking existing laws or regulations will not be adequate.

Most of the discussion on the replacement have been happening behind closed doors, though there have been plenty of leaks. According to The Register the need for reform of Safe Harbour had been seen for a while, and suggestions had been made. However:

Not one of those recommendations was implemented by the US before the European Court of Justice struck down the agreement. Since October, occasional leaks over the negotiations have repeatedly pointed to intransigence on the part of the US intelligence services as the main stumbling block.

With the January 31st deadline about to expire things are down to the wire. I see now (via Jonathan King) that the US senate is pushing through legislation  which is supposed to boost protection that Europeans can enjoy in US courts.

Personally I am a bit concerned that the details of this protection seems pretty restrictive and limiting:

the right to request access to records shared by their governments with U.S. agencies in the course of a criminal investigation, correct those records if they are wrong, and sue if the records are illegally disclosed.

That does not seem to address the routine data slurping that has been occurring.

And the legislation is only with a senate committee. An actual vote, or one with the other chamber is not likely to happen any time soon. The questions I come away with are:

  • Will this actually get passed?
  • Will it be adequate?

And from a personal perspective, how do these new protections for EU citizens compare to the ones Americans get? The latest proposal matches legislation from the 1970s for US citizens. But they also get constitutional protection (in theory) from surveillance by their own state. That is not something Europeans can expect.

I will be surprised if we reach a solution in this before before the end of February. With the EU having to take action after than, companies are going to be looking for local solutions to protect themselves.


Hiking in Sweden with

Being in a new country makes it hard to know where to go to for hikes and walks. Good for me then that I found the Stockholm Outdoor group on Meetup and they had a walk this weekend north of Stockholm.

As my first meetup I didn’t know what to expect. It turned out to be  a pretty mixed group. The leaders, and core were Swedes who have a love of walking hiking* and seem to be the regular organisers of events. Most of the rest are expats. Everyone I talked to had some degree of walking experience. It was pretty friendly group and it was easy to strike up conversations as you went along. Much like any hiking group really.

Swedish trail walking

The walk itself was along a route through the Runby nature reserve, and alongside Lake Mälaren. For the most part we were on a way marked trail. In Sweden this means that you could be on a road, or path, and sometimes you go cross country on slightly rougher ground. But there was nothing technical or unsuitable for children lets say. The trail was marked by orange paint spots and bird houses in trees. A map would be a good idea, but it would be very hard to get lost.

This being outside Stockholm it was pretty level. We went up one or two hills, but I doubt any of them was more than 60m high. Oh, and the weather was good. Cold (about freezing), but little wind, and other than one small snow/sleet shower it was dry and clear all day.

View over lake Mälaren.The scenery was pretty good. The start was in a suburb and then we headed into the woods. Much of the route skirted Lake Mälaren, so the views were nice. We had lunch on a small hill top which was the site of some iron age ruins, and we even passed a Swedish castle on the way home**.

A highlight though was seeing all the people skating on the lake. Most were doing the same thing we were – going on a long distance excursion, just on the ice. What I learned about this type of skating was:

  • You need a big rucksack to hold a full change of clothes and foot wear in a waterproof bag. It will help with buoyancy if you do fall in.
  • Ice can hold about 100kg per cm of thickness. But generally wait until it is 5cm thick before going out on it.
  • Today it was 20cm thick, so you could have driven on it!

Skaters on the ice at lage Mälaren.It was a good day out. I will definitely try and get hiking/walking with the group again. I did miss getting to go up something, but the walk and the company were worth the trip, and I will be back.


* I kept referring to it as a “walk” and I kept getting corrected. Probably residual snobbery from my mountaineering days, where if there isn’t at least 500m of ascent, it can’t actually be a hike.

** My tracker say 19.25km, with 390m ascent. Which apparently was 1400kcal burned with another 300 kcal cycling to and from the station. So I don’t feel guilty about the tea and biscuits I had back home.

All the photos:


Star Wars – The Force awakens – what did I think?

Skellig Michael, when I visited it in 2006.

Skellig Michael, when I visited it in 2006.

I finally got to see the new Star Wars film this evening. The internet is flooded with spoliers so there weren’t too many secrets for me to learn (BTW, very mild spoliers here).

The opinions I had heard from friends were mixed, so I went in with a degree of trepidation. But I have to say that as things got going I started to enjoy myself. Yeah, the story is a total re-hash of the 1977 one. But you can forgive that if the scenes and spectacle are done well. And as the film went on, well I got more and more disappointed by it.

For every thing I saw that gave me a little smile, or an internal “nice” there were two that made me cringe, or go “that is just daft”. For the last half hour, during the climatic battle, I was just bored. I found myself checking my watch and being more worried about getting to the supermarket on the way home.

The highlight of the film had to be when the Skelligs appeared. I actually felt a lump appear in my throat. The Swede beside me in the cinema even went “Wow”. It’s funny that the most amazing spectacle in a CGI laden blockbuster was the two minute scene shot on an island with 1500 year old ruins that (AFAIK) were not tweaked.

Frankly the rest of it you can keep. The two new main characters were okay, but the rest were bad. A forgettable good guy (Poe), a villiain who quite literally was a petulant whiny teenager, another one who was like a reject from a b-list computer game (Snoke’s arm movements, and the gigantic size of the hologram just made him seem cartoonish, not intimidating). And there were the usual Star Wars WTF plot holes, things that make absolutely no sense, and the amazing coincidences that brings characters, props, and so on all together all the time.

And in a lot of the ways that was something that really felt wrong about the film. For all their faults Lucas’ Star Wars films felt BIG. There was a sense of scale to the sets, the planets and the universe that the characters lived in (if you overlook the fact that it’s set in a galaxy where only people with the family name Skywalker get to matter). After the opening scenes this film felt small. The Starkiller thing was an embarrasing example of this.

The overall impression I took away was that if the other Star Wars films never existed, and there hadn’t been the hype and expectation (not to mention the massive amount of marketing and product tie-ins), then this film would have been regarded as something like Guardians of the Galaxy – fun but forgettable.

I know there are 2 more to come in this series. They have a bit of a hill to climb if in the long run people don’t end up regarding these as another set of average sequels.


Data Centres – the factories of the 21st century

One of Ericsson's global data centres outside Stockholm.

One of Ericsson’s global Data Centres outside Stockholm (it was snowing).

Yesterday I was at the opening of Ericsson’s new global data centre outside Stockholm. We were given a virtual tour of some of the building via an Oculus, and a real one through two of computer spaces. It was pretty impressive. Each of the computer spaces has a 4.5MW power capacity. And they can accommodate power densities of 10s of KW per rack (many legacy DCs struggle to go beyond 6-8 kW). The overall site is 20,000sqm and is one of three new global ICT centres Ericsson is bringing online at the moment.

Servers in ericsson data centre the 21st century factory

Foto: Ericsson/Lasse Hejdenberg

Back when I started my career, my first job out of college was in a factory working as a process engineer and production manager for the production lines there. A decade or two later my work is all focused around Data Centres and what goes on (and into) them. In a lot of the ways I am back where I started.

The industrial revolution gave us factories that built widgets that everyone bought. Even just twenty years ago your money would buy you real goods. Physical things you could touch and bring home. But now the greatest growth is in digital goods. Gamers pay for ad-ons like levels, maps, avatars, virtual weapons, clothing and vehicles. Children look for new apps for the family tablet. Music, podcasts, films, and books are streamed to billions of devices, and users never even hold a local copy. These are things exist only as 1s and 0s. And for the most part their existence is within a data centre somewhere.

In the enterprise the office server room is dead and gone. IT infrastructure and workloads are all moving to clouds – private ones in for large enterprises, and the vast hyperscale public clouds for companies large and small. Data is the key asset class today.

And the place where it is stored, manipulated, and value is generated from that data is the Data Centre. Which is why Data Centres are the factories of the 21st century.

I am not making moisturizer cream any more, but I like to think I am not too far from where I was 20 years ago.


Conspiracies – it’s hard to keep them secret

I see my one time drinking buddy David Grimes made the front page of the BBC (and a lot of other places) with his paper on the how possible is it to keep a conspiracy theory secret for any length of time.

He cleverly user data from some real conspiracies (NSA Prism, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) forensic scandal) to model the likelihood that a secret held by many will eventually come out.

And then he applied that to some of the big “popular” conspiracies – that the moon landings were faked, global warming is a conspiracy amongst scientists, and that pharmaceutical companies are concealing a cure for cancer.

The model shows that it would be impossible to keep such large conspiracies under wraps for any length of time. But then what would you expect. Think of all the trivial persona; secrets you are aware of that have gotten out. And then think could thousands of people keep massive things quiet in defiance of their conscience like – We have a cure for cancer. We lied to the world about the moon landings. We are causing deceiving the world about climate change, just so we can get some research funding. The moon landing one always struck me as particularly daft, as you would need the Russians (ostensible “losers” in the race to the moon) to keep quiet as well.

And like all good scientists Dr Grimes used his work to make some predictions. To keep something like the moon landings secret for nearly 50 years the would need a group of conspirators of about 250 people. Considering how many were involved just in running each of the Apollo missions it’s farcical to maintain there is a great secret here.

There is great scope for future work here. Looking at some other real failed conspiracies would refine the model and allow for better estimates. And then I want it applied to some other great conspiracies. Not we can at last figure out how big and how extensive is the reach of the Illuminati, and the Elders of Zion! My bet is the size will come out to be around 0-1 with the greater probability of the lower estimate 🙂


Excuse the mess

I am playing around with some structure stuff. This will be cleared up later today.

The plan is to have a full menu with:

  • Blog – with everything, including my tech posts
  • Tech Blog – a category with just the tech stuff
  • Pictures – specific photo stuff
  • Travels – stuff from my world travels.
  • About page

I am debating a static home page. But I think the blog one will be fine. If you want to know what this is all about then you can click on “About”. Simples.


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